A recent New York Times Magazine article entitled Scan this Book! by Kevin Kelly is getting lip service in the library world. The article describes the current digitization landscape, discussing the Google book project, among other initiatives, and describes both the potential benefits and current challenges to the grand vision of a digitized, hyperlinked world. I was specifically glad to see the discussion not just centering around books, but around other forms of information and expression as well. However, library folk are starting in on our usual reactions to such pieces, finding factual errors, talking about how tags and controlled subjects aren't mutually exclusive, pointing out the economics of digitization efforts, discussion of how the digitization part is only the first step and how the rest is much more difficult. All of these points are perfectly valid.
Yet even though these criticisms might be correct, I think that we do ourselves a disservice by letting knee-jerk reactions to "outsiders" talking about our books take center stage. Librarians have a great deal to offer to the digitization discussion. We've done some impressive demonstrations of the potential for information resources in the networked world. Yet we don't have a corner on this particular market. Like any group with a long history, we can be pathetically short-sighted about changes we're facing. I believe it would be a fatal mistake to believe we can face this future alone. We have solid experience and many ideas to bring to Kelly's vision for the information future. However, we simply can't do it alone, and not just for economic reasons. We simply must be listening to other perspectives, just as we expect search engines, publishers, and others we might be working with to listen to ours. Let's keep our defensiveness in check, and start a dialog with those who are interested in these efforts, instead of finding ways to criticize them.